The Mad Scientist's Daughter

In the opening scene of Cassandra Rose Clarke's The Mad Scientist's Daughter, Cat is just a small girl when her father brings Finn home to live with their family. At first, his strange demeanor convinces her that he's a ghost. She tries taking him to the local cemetery to make his spirit vanish, but he doesn't go anywhere; in fact, her father decides to make Finn her homeschooling tutor. Eventually, she discovers the truth--Finn is a vividly life-like robot--and as she hits adolescence, her parents grow concerned about her intense emotional attachment to him. Despite their best efforts, though, she begins to push their relationship into uncharted territory....

In her first novel for adults (after the YA The Assassin's Curse), Clarke traces Cat's life through several decades, maintaining an emotional consistency to the character even as she convincingly echoes the shifting mindset from early childhood to middle-age. The novel also walks a careful tightrope: Although Clarke portrays the discreet sexual relationship between Finn and the adult Cat sympathetically, she also makes it clear Cat is exploiting the robot both physically and emotionally. It's also obvious that Finn has a greater emotional capacity than Cat suspects, and when she enters into a loveless marriage with a wealthy industrialist to support her artistic lifestyle, he dramatically breaks off contact. Cat still has some significant growing up to do, and though Clarke does steer things toward a happy ending, it's definitely one that is earned rather than rewarded. --Ron Hogan, founder of

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